Are you a dumbass? (Oh, pardon me, I meant a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions)

When I was a girl I never swore. It was a matter of principle. My Mama had always said that swearing was a sign of ignorance. If you swore, it just meant that you were too stupid to come up with something better to say. And besides, I was a good Christian girl, and good Christian girls didn’t swear.

Blonde shocked woman holding anxiously the hand over mouth

It made sense to my young influential brain, so I didn’t question the logic, and I just didn’t do it.

But then I became an adult, and I came to realize the value of a well placed curse word. Sometimes, nothing says it better. It might say it with more intelligence, or even say it  more specifically, but not better.

As a writer, choosing the best word for a situation is very important, and so, I very frequently find myself swearing these days–much to my mother’s chagrin.

Case in point: the modern driving situation.

Sure, I could call the dumbass who is too busy texting at the green light (despite the line of cars behind him waiting for him to get the hell out of the way so they can go) a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions, BUT when we are in the heat of the moment, sounding intelligent isn’t nearly as important as summing up the situation succinctly, and dumbass does that quickly and to the point.

dumbass

Yes, sir, you are a dumbass (and a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions–but I digress).

In the heat of the moment, we want to call it as we see it, simply, and with alacrity. And, being that there are just so very many dumbasses on the road, that means that I swear like a sailor these days.

Every day, I get on the road, and I am confronted with the decline of the human race. No common courtesy. Just me, me me.

I must finish this text. Who cares who is behind me. You can all wait until I finish. Besides, I’ll still make the light, and that is what really counts.

texting and drivingThis call is important, never mind that I am going 20 miles under the speed limit and the long line of cars behind me would very much like to get to work on time…the world revolves around me.

I could write an entire commentary on their lack of intellect and common decency (I guess I kind of am), but on the road, they all categorically become dumbasses.

No need to expound. No need to prove my literary capabilities with witty word play. I do not need a well thought out simile or an analogy to help one understand what a dumbass textingis. Everyone knows what a dumbass is. It’s that car in front of you.

So, what do I want from you this fine, sunny day (at least here in the great state of Texas)? What is my call to action? (Yes, I very much have one)

Please, do not join this mass exodus of the mentally deficient. Join the small minority of the conscientious. Respect the other people on the road, and their schedules. Think of the person behind you. Recognize that, just because you are in no rush, others on the road might be.

Join me in the good old fashioned characteristic of doing unto others what you would like them to do unto you.

You are not more important than everyone else. You are just as important as everyone else.

A little common courtesy can go a long way. Besides, nobody wants to be a dumbass, do they?

 

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I Dare you to Fail–it might be the best thing you ever do!

mean-old-ladyI had the worst first grade teacher ever. She was a cranky old bitty who thought I was stupid, who broke all my pencils, and who threw my shoes in the garbage. I hated her.

But I owe her a huge thank you.

She was my introduction to difficulty. She was my very early initiation into the practice of not perseverance, but of overcoming.

I could have accepted her early analysis of my intellectual capabilities. I could have started the inner monologue of my incompetence, my inability, and my general suckiness, but instead, despite my immature, impressionable six year-old mind, I made impossiblemy very first decision to overcome, to confront her analysis head on, and to prove her wrong.

That was the first time I confronted an obstacle, and I believe it set the precedent for how I would handle all the obstacles to come.

Where did my courage to deal with the difficulties that have come my way over the last several decades come from?

I believe that it came from that very first experience with her. She had told me I couldn’t. She had told me I was dumb. She had labeled me and written me off. But I didn’t accept that, and by third grade I proudly walked the long hall to her room to hold my report card full of A’s to her startled face.

Dadgummit! I had done it! I had proven her wrong, and if I’d proven her wrong, why couldn’t I overcome the next obstacle, and the next one?

I had overcome, and that overcoming gave me faith that I could do it again.

Because of her, from the very beginning, I was only too aware of my imperfections. I never labored under the false perception of perfection, so when I screwed up, as I inevitably did time and again, it was not the end of my world. I did not label myself as a failure, but instead, I recognized that I could do better, be better.

failure-and-successI was very aware of my ability to change and to grow, because I had proven that ability from the tender age of six. I had proven to myself that I could be better tomorrow than I was today. I never thought I was perfect, but I knew that with effort, with tenacity, I could be more than who I was currently.

If I had stepped out of the gate with straight A’s, if it had come easy to me from the very beginning, if I hadn’t had the very early lessons in difficulty, would I have had the courage to confront obstacles instead of just avoiding them? Would I have been scared to risk failure and take chances if I wasn’t thrust into it so early on?

According to Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: the new Psychology of success” I very well might not have. How we deal with failure early on, predicts how we are likely to deal with it our entire lives–unless me mindfully make a decision to deal with it differently.

If, when we are confronted with difficulty, we choose to overcome it, we will keep daring, keep risking, keep pushing our limits to see what we are capable of doing.

If, when confronted with difficulty, we back away, and stay in our comfort zone of what we know we do well, in our zone of tried and true success, we are likely to never find the true potential of what we could do.

failureAnd it all starts when we’re just little peanuts. If we allow our failings to be an impetus for growth, rather than a label of who we are–a failure–we can become so much more.

It is that very willingness to confront the obstacle that I learned way back then that keeps me blogging. I have blogged for years, and yet my following consists mainly of my mother, a couple of loyal family members, and a handful of faithful friends. Logic says that I should have given this up long before now, but am I going to quit? Nope. I’m going to keep doing it, becoming better, working out the kinks, until one day, I firmly believe, someone (hopefully lots of someones–and this isn’t to say I don’t appreciate you, my faithful few!) is going to notice.

And my novel. I know it’s going to get rejected. Probably many times. Is that going to stop me from writing it, or from sending it out to the inundated world of agents and publishers?

The-best-success-stories-often-begin-with-failure_-8x10Absolutely not. It didn’t stop Stephen King and it didn’t stop J.K. Rowling, and it’s not going to stop me. I will keep working on it, tweaking it, taking the advice and suggestions I am given, until finally, one day, someone says, “Yes. I’m going to take a chance on you.”

Sometimes, this mountain I’m trying to climb seems insurmountable, and I am tempted to throw in the towel, but I just can’t do that.

Thank you, Kelly, for the nudge I needed through the book “Mindset” you sent my way, and thank you Chris, for the nudge you gave me with the book “Daring Greatly.” It is a good reminder to keep going, keep trying, and keep believing, that by daring to put myself out there, I am doing something worthwhile.

And thank you Cassandra for telling me you “want to be [me] when you grow up.” You say that to me now, not as a published author, but as one who is daring to try to become one. It reminds me that it’s not the success I achieve, but the willingness to dare to achieve it that is truly admirable.

So, if it’s the willingness to try that sets us apart, what is it that you need to be willing to risk? What is it that you need to dare to do? Aren’t you curious of just how much you can achieve?

Daring to risk and failing, does not make you a failure. It makes you courageous. I dare you to dare with me.

Sometimes You’ve Just Got to Jump off the Deep-end to See if You Can Swim

kid-writing-600xFrom the time when I was small, I wanted to be a writer. I remember starting my first journal when I was in the fourth grade–when I didn’t have anything more interesting to say than a play by play version of the events of the day.

A few years of maturity gave me the added medium of poems (not very good ones I must admit!) and finally, in High School, I started my very first story. It was awful–and I knew it was awful. It was so awful that for a long time I convinced myself that my dream of being a writer was nothing more than a pipe dream.

I was a good writer in general; I knew that. Every professor I’d ever had told me I was a good writer. My poetry became better as I matured too, and I was even able to publish a few of them. By the time I wrote my master’s thesis, my professors were telling me I should consider publishing. I didn’t take them very seriously though. I was good at things like essays and poetry, but I just didn’t have what it took to write a novel, or so I thought.

Every time I thought of trying a novel, I thought back to that first failed attempt. I was a high school kid trying to write a historical fiction novel without any research…or any real concept of where it was heading. I just jumped in and started at the beginning. My dialogue was stilted, because I didn’t know who my characters were and I hadn’t had enough life experience to know how real conversations went…it was a train wreck!

Add to that my husband who is amazingly gifted and talented. He’s written a fantasy novel and I was his main editor. I marveled at his gift for dialogue and his ability to create a whole new world. My imagination didn’t work like that. I was talented, but not like he was talented.

For years I left it at that, but then I started to realize something. I knew a whole lot more about writing today than I did when I was a kid in High School. Dialogue wouldn’t be a struggle anymore because I knew how real adult conversations played out. Not only that, but I now understood that I needed a plan. And, though I wasn’t talented like my husband, I didn’t need to be. It was apples to oranges. My talent was going to be different than his, that didn’t mean it was less. It was just different. andrewstanton-ted_poster_translated_v21

So I began thinking of all the books I’ve read (and believe me, there are a ton of them) and I asked myself what made the best ones better than the others. I watched what they did. I watched their character development, I watched the dialogue, I watched how plot was built, and I watched how the best had something deeper going on beneath the surface–ways that the reader could relate to them and how they had the potential to change the reader or their outlook on the world.

I took all this knowledge and I thought of what I have so often heard stated–write about what you know. For this first story, I didn’t write a historical fiction, though someday I could see myself writing in the vein of Kate Morton or Susanna Kearsley, and I didn’t start with a fantasy or dystopian book (well, I have started one, but it’s on the back burner) though that tends to be my favorite genre, I started with what I know, and I spun out from reality and created something different. A character who resembles me, but who makes choices I didn’t make, who responds differently, and who almost loses everything before she realizes what she has.

a-63And you know what, I think it’s good. I started my first book 25 years ago and almost gave up altogether, but I finally faced my fear of failure and tried again. And I’m really glad I did. I am 80% done (or there about) and I likely will finish in the next couple of weeks. And then I will have written a novel–one I actually believe is good. I know that is only the start of the road. The road to publishing and actually getting people to read the thing is one fraught with rejection, but I’m going to stick myself out there, and hopefully, someone will see a book with believing in.

So often in life, we think we can’t so we don’t try. Our early dreams fall by the wayside. Some we’ve outgrown, but some, some we bury because we think we can’t, but the reality is we don’t know what we can do until we try. I’m glad I tried–even if no one ever reads it, I’m glad I’ve taken the chance.

What is it for you? What dreams have you told yourself you can’t reach, or aren’t practical, or whatever excuse it is you apply to it? Is it one you’re really okay letting fall by the wayside? Or is it one that you will always regret not at least seeing if it might be possible?

There is a Parallel Reality in which I Exist as a Hermit

article-1380644-08A5FA8C000005DC-229_468x345It is lucky for me that I have children. If I didn’t have children, I fear I would turn into a hermit. I would be one of those crusty (as in–I forgot to shower for a week), socially awkward (because I have not talked with real live human beings in days), pale skinned (because I would have no reason to go outside what with those nice delivery men willing to bring food to my door) writer types who stares at her screen all day engrossed in a world of her own imaginings.

You have my children to thank that I am a nice smelling, fairly socially adept, non-albino human being. They keep me anchored to the present and to real life.

A_Writer_Typing_Frantically_At_a_Manual_Typewriter_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_110305-168123-861053If not for them I would tumble from one world to another, sometimes my own, sometimes of someone else’s creation: Sookie Stackhouse (excepting the final book which was a disappointment of epic proportions!), to Jon Snow (I was a fan before all you people had even heard of him!) to my own characters to Rachel Morgan (the Hollow series) to Elena Gilbert and the Vampire Diaries (though that obsession has waned over the recent seasons) back to my own novel to…well you get the picture.

This summer, as I have committed to finally finishing this darn book that has been stewing in the back of my brain for the last three years, I have very clearly seen my own pathology. I’ve always known that I have a streak of the obsessive and compulsive in me. As I delve into this world and realize more clearly how my mind works, I realize the proportions of that pathology. My mind doesn’t work in small measures–it’s all about immersion.

I approach writing (and reading or my favorite tv series for that matter) much like a method actor approaches a role. In my pre-children days, I was an actor, and I once was asked by a director how I would explain my approach to acting. I explained it something like this. When I act, I slip into my character’s skin. I see through her eyes, I feel what she would feel, and I think how she would think. In essence, I detach from myself and become someone else.

I write in the same way. I stop being Heather, the overworked Mommy, and, in the case of the novel I am currently focusing on, I become Jen. I think like Jen, I look at the world through Jen’s eyes, I feel what Jen would feel. My best writing comes when I can totally immerse myself in her world–and detach from my own. Like I said, we’re talking hermit–I can’t help but think of Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets.” That could be me.

mom-working-daughter-140310Except for the fact of my children. Yesterday, for example, I was pulled from Jen’s world for a myraid of reasons: because they were hungry, because Arabelle yelled at Lily, because they were desperate for a popsicle, because there was a beetle in Arabelle’s hair–the list is endless. It certainly puts a cramp in my writing progress. I didn’t finish the chapter I was working on; I only made it about halfway through, and instead of hitting the 5,000 word mark for the day, I ended at 3,500.

BUT, as aggravating as it is initially, I am so grateful for those little people who pull me back to my world, my real world, and my real life. Otherwise, I fear I would be so busy reading about someone else’s adventures or creating adventures for my fictitious brain child, that I just might forget that I need to have adventures that are all my own.

With this in mind, instead of diving into my novel in an attempt to hit my goal of 62,000 words by the end of the day (I’m currently sitting at 58,000), I am putting aside the world of Jen and taking my girls to the zoo. Her world can wait. Today, I need to fully engage in my own world. I need to take a shower, talk to some real life people, and feel that hot Texas summer sun bake my bones.

Hello, I’m Heather and I’m an addict–a book addict that is

booksnifferI love to read. Anyone who knows me knows this. I always have a book in tow–yes, an actual book, no e-readers for me. I love the feel of the new book in my hand, the weight of it on my palm, the slightly stale smell of old paper that wafts up as you open to that first page.

I have a tablet and I’ve tried reading on it…it’s a whole lot easier to slip that into my purse than a clunky old book–but I just can’t make the change, so call me old fashioned, but it’s a book that I take with me while my tablet sits lonely charging on my nightstand while I’m out and about.

Reading is a good thing. A great thing. Even the best thing–most of the time.

downloadYou won’t hear me talk about it often, but reading does have its downside. Sleep deprivation is most certainly one of them. Despite having three decades to learn how to put down a good book at a respectable hour and get some shut-eye, I find myself repeating the same litany to myself that I repeated to my father when I was a child. “One more chapter, just one more chapter and then I must really go to bed.” Will power has never been my strong suit as the thirty extra pounds of baby weight I’m still carrying around after the birth of my last child (she’s almost 7) will show you. I might say the words, just like the younger version of myself said them nightly to my 2b2eb8669559be5e5ad122677879e6b4dad, but just as they were empty promises then, they are empty resolutions today.

Many a day I have found myself before my first hour class leaning heavily on that cup of caffeine to pull back the reading induced fog I find myself in–my own version of the hangover. Who needs alcohol to produce a hangover when you have books right there, on your bookcase beckoning you into their worlds and plenty able to give you the same headache without the unsightly gut (or the trips to the toilet for that matter)–I call that a bargain!

And lack of sleep is not the only downside, oh no!

I consider myself a writer. I write my blog almost weekly, but sometimes I just don’t seem to have the time! Every once in a while I grab a solid hour or two to plug away at my novel, but not nearly enough. I just never seem to have the time!

I’m always complaining about the little time I have to write…and yet I’ve read easily a hundred books this year. I read and I read and I read. Somehow I always find time to read. Hmmm… I think I spy with my little eyes a great, big glaring inconsistency!

The truth is that I believe reading is the single greatest hindrance to my writing career. Yes, I like to blame the kids, and they do keep me eternally busy with their needing quality time and all (really, how dare they!) and all the chauffeuring about to baseball and gymnastics and football and…well you get the idea. And the job, yes, the job! Must blame the job (because what aspiring writer doesn’t find themselves with one of these to actually pay the bills) as it is by far the largest time sucker of them all! And teaching! Well goodness! Of course I don’t have time to write with those piles and piles of essays I have to grade on what feels like an eternal basis! And then there’s the housework, with a family of five, that never ends, always a load to throw in and a kitchen to clean…

True, true, and true, but I still find time to I read.

Woman walking across landscape of clothes

I can ignore the growing pile (no, not pile, the burgeoning mountain would be more accurate, a mountain with an impending rock slide currently…) of laundry. I can ignore the crusting over dishes in the kitchen sink. I can even shoo away my little darlings and tell them that Mommy needs a little quiet time and that I will read them a story later. All this I can do if I am in the throes of a great adventure.

So why? If I love to write so much why do I allow myself to continually get sidetracked by a good book? Wouldn’t that time be better spent writing my own novel?

Well, if I’m completely honest, I do it because I am innately lazy. Yep. There it is. It’s easier to read a world someone else has created than to create one of my own. It takes no real effort on my part. I get a cup of coffee, I curl up in my favorite chair, and I leave my world and all its problems behind without having to lift a finger. It’s wonderful–BUT, I’m beginning to see that it’s kind of like the Matrix. Books keep me in matrix-pods-680x400those little pods, giving me a whole alternate world to live in–I experience incredible things, get to be so many different people, live so many different lives, but the truth is, I’m in a pod and I’m not living at all.

Reason two for allowing myself to get sidetracked? It’s risk free. I’m not putting my ego, my self, my dreams on the line when I read a good book, but I sure as heck am when I write one. I’ve had this dream for thirty years…for thirty years I have wanted this, thought about it, planned it–but what if I’m not good? What if I finish my novel and it sucks toenails? Or, worse yet, what if I finish it, and it is good, but I can’t get anyone to read it? What then?

There is so much to risk when writing your novel. What people don’t often understand about authors is that we are putting our heart and soul out there for the world to see. We are pulling back the curtain so to speak, into our private world, and we’re allowing you to see into our thoughts, our feelings, and our struggles.

But wait a minute…I thought we were talking fiction? Am I saying that fiction isn’t fiction at all, that it really happened.

No, not exactly. I’m going to borrow from Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl” for this one, because it sums it up so well.

“I take something that happened to me in 1983, and I make it happen to somebody else in 1943. I pick my life apart that way, try to understand it better by writing straight through it.”

“So everything in your books is true?”

The professor tilted her head and hummed. “Mmmm…yes. And no. Everything starts with a little truth, then I spin my webs around it–sometimes I spin completely away from it. But the point is, I don’t start with nothing (307).”

In other words, yes, it’s us out there, on some level. I don’t care if it’s dystopian or sci-fi, fantasy or historical fiction, the best writers pull from what they know–they are putting themselves on the line, and the risk in that is enormous! The rejection really is personal.

angry-fansSo, with all that to lose, it so much easier, and safer, to pull that new Sophie Kinsella off the shelf and leave my world to my own imagination where it can live safely without being assaulted by the critique of the armchair coach sitting safely on the sidelines telling me what I’m doing wrong and how I should play ball.

So, yes, I love to read, and I gain so very much through the worlds I have walked, but this is me, admitting to you, that I am an addict. I am a book addict–and if I ever want to finish my own book, I must, dear reader, PUT YOURS DOWN.

So, I’m taking the redpill. I want to see to the end of my rabbit hole, even if it “disparages” me (sorry, I just flashed John Cage from ‘Ally McBeal’) in the process.

MatrixBluePillRedPill

You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.Morpheus, to Neo

I’ve got the red pill, and a glass of water…it’s time to stop being a coward. It’s time to see what I’m really made of.

What are you made of?

We all have our escapes–our addictions–our personal “pods.” What are yours? And what are you going to do about them?

Are you going to take the blue pill and continue avoiding the real life that is waiting for you, or do you have the courage–the guts– the gumption–to take the red pill and to find out just how deep your own rabbit hole goes?

Carpe Diem–Seize the day! Or in my case, Seize the pen

feature_799_storyWhen I was a young girl, you were much more likely to find me sitting on a bench or under a tree with a notebook and pencil– or a book–than flirting with the boys or gossiping with the girls. When other girls stayed up late talking on the phone for endless hours, I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning reading my latest binge–historical romance, Agatha Christie, Austen, Elliot, even Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. In fact, my father and I had a little two step that became a tradition of sorts.

“Heather, ” he would call up the stairs to me. “Turn off your light and go to bed. It’s late.”

“Aww…Dad! One more chapter? Please? I’m at a really good part!”

To which my father would always sigh, but relent. “One more chapter, but that’s it, okay?”

And I would always agree, even though he knew, and I knew that he knew, that that one chapter would likely turn into several more and he would be repeating our little verbal dance an hour, and two hours, and even as many as four or five hours later. But he let me. Because this he understood. Most of me, my dad never could really understand me, but this? This I got from him, and this he understood.

My mother, on the other hand, never understood this side of me. I think she genuinely worried about me. She would continually encourage me to call a friend, go out with a boy, to get out and do something, anything, that didn’t have to do with a book. What she never understood was that that held so little appeal to me. What boy could even come close to keeping pace with Mr. Darcy? What friend could equal Dianna Berry?

Girl-writingMy books, and even my own imagination, offered far more than anything my little rural community could offer. So, I was very content to live within the pages of my books, and in the dramas I created in my own mind, until life could keep up with the worlds I had experienced through my fictitious wanderings.

It took a while, but eventually real life did catch up, in all its many joys and horrors, to the worlds between the pages. And I knew exactly what to do when it did. Write.

You see, since I was young, I always wanted to be a writer. I knew I had something inside me worth saying, but in my youth? Any attempts at a novel fell flat. I hadn’t lived enough to have anything to say that was worth reading. So, my only real successes were in poetry and in essays. My poetry was good enough to get published in various anthologies, and my professors always came back with strong praise for my essays, and even my thesis, stating that I was a gifted writer and that I should consider publishing.

I appreciated their affirmation, and believe me, even before they gave it, I considered publishing, but how? How did I take my passion for words, my life experience, and this living, organic thing inside me and make it into an actually story?

paint-colors-bursting-out-of-dress-shirtFor years it has felt like I had this…this…something, living inside of me, not a beast or a monster, but something alive, something waiting to get out, but not yet…it was asleep, it was waiting…for what I didn’t know.

Perhaps I was too busy living life, experiencing it, to put it together into something cohesive. Perhaps there was some deep instinct in me that recognized anything I wrote now would be premature, stillborn.

Whatever the reason, it was dormant. I would blog, I would write the occasional poem, but my novel? It remained a dream on the edge of my consciousness–until about three years ago.

Three years ago I gave birth to an idea, the basic (very basic) concept for the book I am now writing.

So I started to write this fledgling idea. I started it, and stalled, I’d write a little and get bogged down. I’d nail an idea, and then get stuck as if in quicksand, there was no movement, no momentum. There were holes I couldn’t fill. Ideas that just weren’t organic. I eventually abandoned it, saving it for another day.

I moved on to work on the book my husband and I are co-authoring. I started my first YA dystopian novel. And all the while, this idea germinated in the back of my mind, my subconscious taking over. It was there, but I didn’t spend much time mulling it over. It was just there, growing, without my conscious knowledge.

Until about six months ago when it stood up and pounced.

bursting_with_creativity_by_chumpinator-d4lvt3lWhat was an embryo when I put it to bed, woke up as a full grown, fully viable creation. There were no more holes. The concept seemed to grow and expand of its own accord. The something that has been in me, waiting, since I was a child, has decided its time is now, and it flows out of me in an almost effortless stream. What once took plodding, sludging effort, and was oh so agonizingly slow, just…comes.

I am almost forty. This has been my dream for the last thirty years. And I feel this sense of “carpe diem.” I must seize this day, hold on to it. I must let it come now, not later, or it will shrivel, it will die, and I will be back to the mere hope of a dream, not the very real possibility of seeing it to the finish.

So, this is the summer where I give my dream a real chance. I am well aware of the uphill battle ahead of me even if I manage to finish it (no, not manage to, I will finish it by the end of July. No ifs, no excuses). I know that in this world where writers are a dime a dozen getting a work published, or even read, is a battle all its own, but that battle is for tomorrow.

Today, I commit to myself, and I commit to you, fellow reader, that I will write this novel. I will give it a chance to be, to become. Whether it is truly good, whether it has any potential at all, I cannot say for sure. What I do know is that any chance it has, it has now. It’s time is now. I can feel it.

The waiting is done, the moment is now, and I cannot let it pass me by without seeing what this is that is really inside of me.

Deferred today, but not Dead

I have found myself contemplating the nature of dreams.

The last unit of this school year was titled “Dream Deferred.” I think it might be my favorite unit of my teaching career. So often, in this technology filled world, we do not give our children (or ourselves) the opportunity to reflect, and that is what this unit was really about.

What are our dreams? Are deferred dreams always negative? Are dreams worth pursuing at any cost? How do dreams, and the pursuit of dreams, change as a result of our society and culture, religion, SES, etc.?

I think our answers to these questions change a lot over time.

dreams4American culture is a highly individualistic, even narcissistic. We ask our children what they want to be when they grow up. We talk to them about their dreams and aspirations, as if it is entirely up to them. We tell them they can do anything if they work for it hard enough (which simply isn’t always true). We send them out into the world, believing that they can do it all–without having realistic conversations with them about what it all means. It’s a dream it–achieve it mentality. It sounds great, but tends to lead to disillusionment when the realities of life–family, responsibility, they need to pay rent–start pushing their way in.

STEM-LogoMy Asian students approach dreams very differently. Their culture is not one that promotes individualism, but rather community. Their aspirations are not a result of personal passions, so much as the dictates of their family and cultural expectations. Very often, their pursuit is not of a “dream,” but rather for status and wealth, which bring honor and prestige to their families. Many of them struggle as, the society they find themselves in and which naturally affects them  (American), comes into conflict with their heritage.

As with so much of life, things on either extreme lead to dissatisfaction. Life tends to be lived in the middle ground, but when our expectations don’t match up with that…someone, or lots of someones, are unhappy.

I, being a product of my culture, started my path with much of the mentality of the typical American perspective. My aspirations were big, larger than life, and I do think that I probably could have attained at least some of them by now–but at what cost?

Years ago, I remember one of my coaches telling me that I could be a truly amazing basketball player if I really worked at it. I was a good basketball player all ready, but not great. If I were to work year round, every day, if I were to dedicate myself to it, I had a chance of being something special.

I was in high school at the time. I remember thinking about what he said, weighing it, and deciding that I didn’t want it that badly. To be truly excellent at basketball meant that I would have to give up theater and music. I would have to give up cheerleading. I would have no time to practice the piano. Would I ever have time to read a book again?

I suppose my coach may have been right, but just because I could have that, didn’t mean that I should.

kiddosIn the same way, the young me, hadn’t thought through the affects that meeting and marrying my husband, and our subsequent children, would have on the attainment of my dreams. Had I never met Aaron, I think I would have been closer to fulfilling, or possibly even have fulfilled, many of my dreams by now…but at what cost?

Are my dreams so huge that I would throw love and family to the curbside to attain them? If I had it to do over, would I change the path I took?

Absolutely not. My family, despite the personal sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis, are worth the deferment of my dreams. I do not exist in a vacuum, nor would I want to.

American society, does its children a disservice when they approach the concept of dreams. We hold the dream up, as if it were worth any cost, without bringing the conversation of family, love, and responsibility into the conversation. This leads to disillusioned young parents as they struggle to make their concept of a dream match the reality that they find themselves in.

This isn’t to say that I believe that the Asian families have hit the mark. I think that they too, have fallen short of what leads us to happiness.

dreams 5If we live life solely for the accumulation of status and wealth, solely for responsibility, we will find that our lives are spent on a hamster wheel, every day the same with no sense of fulfillment. Humans are passionate creatures. We need time to allow the sides of us that feel, that create, to have their time too. To be a lover of art, to create art, does not mean that I must be an artist as a profession. Just because I am a businessman by day, does not mean that I can’t indulge in my need to create art. Our dreams do not need to be synonymous with our professions.

And deferred dreams are not dead dreams. Just because I am a teacher today, does not mean that I can’t be a writer tomorrow.

And as with so much of life, isn’t it the waiting, the dreaming, the anticipation of the dream happening, that makes the attainment of it that much sweeter? Like a child waiting for the gift that he knows is under the Christmas tree…if it were easy to attain, I wouldn’t value it quite so much.

 

We live in a Photoshopped Perfect, Plastic World

emotional vomitI have a cousin who is prone to emotional vomit.

Yes, she spews her emotions (typically rapidly changing from one extreme to the next) all over social media. I know every problem she has. I know when she’s not feeling well, when she’s angry at her boyfriend, when she decides that she HATES somebody–everybody (And boy! She holds no punches, dropping f-bombs and oozing hatred with every syllable), when she’s depressed, when she’s filled with self-loathing, and when she’s ready to give up on it all.

It’s all right there–in black and white–for the whole world to see.

Many times I have thought about saying something, but I know too well how she would respond, so I keep my peace. It’s simply not worth it. She will not hear. She’ll just point her anger and hatred in my direction, and frankly, who needs that?!

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way, because last week, when she posted something especially venomous, people started weighing-in. They told her (and there were many of them) in gentle, and not so gentle terms, that facebook was not the place to air all of her problems.

As I expected, she pointed her canon at them and started unloading. Most of what she said, does not bear repeating. But one thing was telling. “You guys don’t know the half of my f&^%$#@* life, So, until you walk a day in my d*$# shoes. . . Yeah sorry I don’t have 3beautiful kids an awesome husband and a family who supports me.”

Why was this telling?

photoshoppedBecause her assumption is based on a fundamental misconception: that who we are on facebook is an honest reflection of our lives. She honestly thought that the view she was getting of peoples’ lives on facebook was their reality, and when she compared that to her own life, she became angry and bitter.

I’ve blogged about this before (check out The Grass is Always Greener . . . ). Most of us do not do what my cousin does. We do not spew our worst days, our failings, and our heartbreaks all over facebook. We post our special moments, our successes and our good times. We post our best selves. We want the world to believe that we are doing it, that we are living the dream–that we’ve arrived.

This is a cultural failing that we have–this impossible grasping for perfection. Even our models, the most beautiful among us, are photoshopped, because even they are not perfect in their beauty. We, especially the women, live under a continual pall of insecurity because we cannot attain the unattainable–we cannot look like the     photoshopped images we see on a daily basis.

I absolutely love Meghan Trainor’s song “All About that Base,” because it addresses this head on. We are making generations of women feel as if they are inferior because they cannot be, what no one can be.

Facebook can have the same affect. We post only the pictures that make us feel beautiful, the moments that show that we are special, the events that paint us as successful. Our facebook selves are photshopped selves. They are the selves we wish we were, not the selves that we really are.

We are a disingenuous culture. We are rarely honest with anyone, even ourselves.

perfect familyTo the casual observer on my facebook page, I might look like I have it all together (with the exception of the loss of Serena which I am fairly open about). I have a handsome, intelligent husband, three beautiful children, a great house, and a great job. I get to have vacations every now again and do fun things. I look happy.

And sometimes I am.

But there is another picture. Another side.

Facebook knows nothing of my struggle with insecurity. It shows nothing of the days when I hate my body and feel too keenly my fading beauty.

Facebook knows nothing of the years of struggle with depression after losing Serena.

Facebook knows nothing of the shame I walked when Aaron lost his job and for six months we struggled to even pay rent–when, despite the humiliation, we found ourselves walking into the human services office to see about our options with public assistance. It knows nothing of the shame I felt every single time I had to scan that EBT card.

Facebook knows nothing of the resurgence of my temper in the wake of grief and stress. It does not see the ugliness I show when I am pushed beyond what I feel as if I can bare. The times I yell, the times I snap at my husband and children, the times when I end up sobbing from the weight of it all.

Fmom-chaosacebook does not see when my house is a wreck, and the dishes pile up in my sink, and the laundry starts to pile to the rafters. It does not see the relentless and endless drudgery of cooking and cleaning for a family of five. It does not see the times when I feel reduced to a cook and maid, a faceless, powerless drudge.

Facebook does not see the ways Aaron and I have wounded each other by both word and deed.

Facebook does not see the many times he and I have wanted to give up, to walk away, to say, “We’re done! We can’t do this anymore!”

Facebook does not know, cannot know, because I refuse to show it.

Facebook does not see–so you do not see.

barbieYou see the window dressing. You see the outer shell I choose to show.

Every once in a while, we give a window in, but it is only a window. It is a snapshot. Not the reality.

Do not compare yourself to these Facebook Selves, these shadow selves. They are allusions, projections, phantasms. They are not substantial, attainable or replicable.

Do not compare yourself to me or to anyone else.

Do not compare your life to someone else’s life.

Because, I promise you, you will be comparing yourself to something that does not exist.

How can I know this? How can I promise such a thing?

perfect lifeBecause no one is perfect, no matter what you think. And no one has a perfect life, though to an outward eye it might appear as if they do.

No life is without pain.

We all hurt. We all bleed. We all have moments when we feel as if we can’t possibly keep breathing, keep walking, keep standing.

Not one of us is untouched.

For some, the pain starts when we’re children, and we never know life without pain. For others, childhood leaves us untouched, and we enter adulthood with shining eyes and expectations of a perfect world, but at some point, somewhere on our journey, pain will find its way in.

People die. They get sick. They leave.

Sometimes, the ones we trust the most betray us. Sometimes the ones who should have our back, are the ones who slide the knife in. Sometimes our heart bleeds, it breaks, it shatters.

And everyone, every single person on this planet, will have these moments–because these moments are life.

The amazing thing, the wonderful thing, is our capacity to endure.

I've learned that you can keep going long after you think you can'tWhen we feel like we can’t keep going, we can and we do. When we feel like we can’t possibly take one more thing–when it comes–which it inevitably seems to–we find ourselves somehow battening down the hatches and fighting our way through. Sometimes we cannot run, or even walk. Sometimes all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, and that’s all we have. That all we’ve got to give. But we do it. One. Foot. At. A. Time.

How do I know we can do this, when life pummels us, and people fail us, when we fail ourselves, how do I know we can push through?

Because we exist. The human race is still here.

We live in the height of human existence. We live a life of plenty: plenty of food, plenty of the basic necessities (clothing, house, healthcare) and plenty of leisure/extravagances (entertainment, hobbies, options, etc.).

Historically, people lived in want. They went to bed hungry. They had limited, or no, healthcare. Death was a frequent visitor.

If anyone had a reason to give up, they did–but they didn’t. They kept living. They kept loving. They kept walking. They kept fighting. They gave us a future.

I am an anomaly having lost a child. Most people, at least in the developed world, do not have to bury their children.

In the past, they didn’t just bury one, but instead, usually several.

Men very commonly lost their wives in childbirth. Women lost their husbands, and, when they did, what options did they have to provide for their families? They either married again or were forced to walk paths that they never would have chosen.

keep goingLife was hard. It was ugly. It was survival–but they did just that–they survived. And because they did, we are still here today.

We need to end this delusion that perfection is possible. We need to stop hurting ourselves and each other with this endless striving for what does not exist–the perfect life and the perfect person. We need to stop pretending that it does exist.

We need to give others grace to be imperfect.

We need to give ourselves grace to be imperfect too.

My husband cannot be the prefect man that some writer has created in a book, or that some actor plays on tv. Those men don’t exist outside of words that were created by a clever person and put on a page. My husband can’t be that man. Neither can your husband.

Neither can I live the photoshopped lives that I catch on the pages of social media, the images I see in magazines, or the brief glimpses into others’ lives that I am allowed, when they choose to show me, what they choose to show me.

I can’t live those lives, and neither can you.

They don’t exist. They’re not real.

perfectPeople are not perfect. Our lives are not perfect. . .

And that’s okay.

Let it be okay.

Give yourself a break.

And give the people around you a break too.

 

 

 

You Don’t Have to be Alexander the Great to Change the World

I was very discouraged last week.

I wrote a blog, pouring out some of the greast lessons I feel like I have learned in life, and I crafted them with great care. I wrote, I paused, I pondered, I wrote, pondered some more, and rewrote. The end result was a blog that I felt captured the heart and soul of what I wanted to say. With a feeling of accomplishment and pleasure in a job well done, I posted it and waited. And waited . . . and waited some more.

A handful of friends and family read it and appreciated it. A handful. I was discouraged. As so many writers, I blog because I have so much inside myself that needs to come out, but also, because I am a writer–I have things to say and I hope that they are worthwhile things that can speak to the human soul, the human angst, the human experience, and thereby, that my influence, my voice will be appreciated by the masses, not a handful. I was discouraged.

As so many of my fellow bloggers have wondered at some point in their blooging lives, I couldn’t help but wonder why I even bother? Why do I spend my free time writing for an audience that doesn’t emerge when I could just as easily simply put my thoughts and ideas into a private journal? Why spend my time agonizing over word choice and turn of phrase, putting my thoughts out in the universe, when no one is going to bother to read them?

But then I began to remember something. It started with a comment a friend who I haven’t seen in ages wrote on my facebook page. She read my blog, and it impacted her. It helped her. It spoke to her in her present pain, and helped her see that she was not alone, that what she was living, is normal. I cried.

In that moment I remembered a truth that so many of us tend to forget.

I have always wanted to change the world. It has always been a burning passion in me. I want to leave this world a better place when I leave it. I do not want to simply take up space, but instead, to know that my living will have an impact, that my time spent on this planet will mean something.

I’m not alone in this desire. It is a somewhat comman desire, that we leave our footprint, our fingerprints, on this world. I think however, that sometimes we look at that and think to change the world we must do so enmasse, in one fell swoop. We have the misconception that we change the world by personally affecting the lives of many people personally, but that is not how most of those who change the world, change the world. They do so one person at a time.change

I have an absolutely wonderful grandmother. She is smart, she is kind, and she pours into the lives of her eight children and her many, many  grandchildren.

She poured into my life. In so many ways, I am the person I am today because my grandmother instilled within me a moral compass, a compassion for others, and a will do to the right thing because it is, quite simply, right.

My grandmother is getting older. As she is walking into the twilight of her life, she spends a lot of time reflecting on the life she has lived. More than once she has spoken with me about her struggle as she contends with a life that, she feels, has not had an impact, has not been important, has not left an imprint.

She was a stay at home mom in a generation of stay at home moms, and now she wishes she had done something great. Something important.

What she doesn’t understand is that she has changed the world.

Behind every world changer, there are many individuals who have changed them.

Martin Luther King Jr. did not change the face of our country alone; he had behind him all of those who impacted him, who encouraged him, all of those who believed in him and told him not to give up. Every great man or woman does.

My grandmother doesn’t think that she changed the world, but she changed me, and I am determined to change the world, be it one person at a time. Every time I impact one of my students, every time I write a blog that changes someone’s outlook, every man woman or child I helped in my times overseas–my grandmother was a part of that. She changed me, and I in turn changed them.grandma

She impacted her children, who have gone out and impacted others. And she has impacted her grandchildren, directly and indirectly. She helps cancer patients through my sister, she reaches countless adults, women and children through my Uncle Mark, and she has touched almost every continent in this world between her various children and grandchildren. By changing one, we change the world.

And so, though my blog is not read by many, and though my impact is negligible, I will not be discouraged. If I impact one, I have made a difference. As a writer, as a teacher, as a citizen of this planet, I will never be able to impact everyone, but, just like paying it forward, if I can give of what I have and of who I am, and if those I pour into will also pour into others . . . then that is really enough, isn’t it?

Bye, bye crazy toddler days! Hello lazy, hazy days of summer! I’ve been missing you!

This summer has been a summer of firsts for me as a mother. It has officially launched me into the next phase of parenting. I am no longer the mother of babies and toddlers. I am now the mother of big kids. Lily, my littlest, will be four in a few weeks, and she acts older than that. The days of hovering and constant watchfulness are a thing of the past, and as much as I enjoyed my children at this stage, I can’t say that I regret the passing of these days, at least not yet.

I knew this day was coming. As Lily told me the other day, “Soon I’m going to be four and then I’ll be sixteen!” She’s not far wrong on that. The time will move so quickly it will feel like that I’m certain, and my girls take after me; they act older than their ages and so I knew that the baby days were about to pass me by forever.

The high stress days of toddlers and temper fits, bolting children hiding in the clothing racks, and constant danger due to lack of coordination are behind me. The days of increasing independence are here. Each day will take my children a bit further from me and more into being capable and independent in their own skin (when I put it that way it is enough to make me cry!). My children will always need me, but they will need me less with each passing day. Their school, teachers and friends will begin to exert almost as much influence over them as my husband and I do. It is a sobering thought!

And yet, my fledgling freedom, the faint stirrings of a me forgotten, can’t help but excite me! To be me again and not just an extension of my children! It sounds heavenly!

So many parts of me were put on hold when I had my children. I haven’t drawn a picture since Arabelle was a baby. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve sat down and played the piano. I’ve only recently started writing poetry again, something you need a measure of peace and time for reflection to create, and since I’ve had neither peace nor time . . . . So many things that were foundational to who I am have had to be put on hold, and I won’t lie, at times it has been suffocating!

I realized that the next phase had arrived the other day when I took my kids to a splash pool. It’s a pretty great place when you live in Texas where we’ve been in the 90’s for weeks already. The water’s not deep, there are fountains everywhere and there is a big play structure in the middle with a water gun and a water slide. It’s little kid heaven!

As it turns out, it’s Mommy heaven too! You see, there were a bunch of lounge chairs under a big tree and the breeze was blowing and it feel COOL under that tree. There were two lifeguards on duty and the pool was enclosed so there was no danger of my children running off or being in any danger. Very quickly I realized that I could sit back and only keep a casual eye on my kids. The kind of vigilance I needed last summer was not necessary this summer!

I read a chapter in my book. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the breeze and the sound of my happy children playing in the background. I took the time to notice how pretty it looked underneath the tree with the sun filtering through the leaves. And I felt peaceful. With all three of my children there, I felt peaceful. Not happy, not content, but PEACEFUL. It was heavenly!

Yes, I know I will miss the antics of my children when they were little. I will miss each day being a new discovery. I will miss baby kisses and cuddles. And nothing is cuter than the cherubic features of a toddler. It’s why I take so many pictures, to capture the moments, to remember. I know I will miss it.

But, big kid hugs and kisses are pretty great too. And the things we are able to do together now that Lily is old enough are a lot of fun. And the chats we are able to have are really pretty wonderful. And the freedom and the peace . . . well, they have been a long time coming!